When I envision a Buddhist, I always think of someone very centered, in the moment, and peaceful. And I can relate to the need for inner balance because I have always been naturally drawn to Eastern practices like meditation and yoga. I grew up in the Midwest where I had very little exposure to other cultures, so I have no idea where that tendency came from.
Every time we visit Malaysia, we go to the Buddhist temple in Ipoh (my husband’s hometown). It’s a unique place because it’s built into a mountain and if you follow a walking tunnel, you end up in the center of the mountain which has been completely hollowed out by some geological process. The five-story building in the picture has more than enough room in this courtyard made by Mother Nature.
During one visit at the temple, I noticed this picture of the birth of Jesus:
I remembered iconography from Western art that included the Virgin Mary holding her baby surrounded by angels. All the holy figures pictured with halos to represent their divinity.
“How cool,” I said to my husband. “The Buddhists recognize Jesus, too?”
When I leaned in closer, the plaque labeled this painting as “The Birth of Buddha.” So if the birth of Jesus and the birth of Buddha are portrayed in such startlingly similar ways, how different can we, as humans searching for answers, really be?
Malaysia has an interesting dynamic, because it is a Muslim country with practicing Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus. My husband’s family has lived there for three generations and there has NEVER been war or terrorism in this tiny country where four major religions have to coexist. In fact, regardless of religion, my Hindu family will visit holy places and recognize the sacredness of the place. We go to the Buddhist temple and light incense, praying by the Buddha statue. Plus we get to feed these cute little turtles who live in the mountain.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church was next door to the Hindu temple where we got married. Muslim prayers from the local minarets echo through the valley at sundown. And I’ve gotten to see the bright colors people wear to the many Hindu holy festivals we’ve attended. I’m so happy that my kids will get to experience all the different types of beauty that these religions have to offer.